This study aimed to quantify changes in heart rate (HR) and movement speeds in interchanged and whole-match players during 35 elite rugby league performances.
Performances were separated into whole match, interchange bout 1, and interchange bout 2 and further subdivided into match quartiles. Mean percentages of peak HR (%HRpeak) and total and high-intensity running (> 14 km/h) meters per minute (m/min) were recorded.
For whole-match players, a decline in high-intensity m/min and %HRpeak was observed between successive quartiles (P < .05). High-intensity m/min during interchange 1 also progressively declined, although initial m/min was higher than whole match (24.2 ± 7.9 m/min vs 18.3 ± 4.7 m/min, P = .018), and %HRpeak did not change over match quartiles (P > .05). During interchange 2, there was a decline in high-intensity m/min from quartile 1 to quartile 3 (18 ± 4.1 vs 13.4 ± 5 m/min, P = .048) before increasing in quartile 4. Quartiles 1 and 2 also showed an increase in %HRpeak (85.2 ± 6.5 vs 87.3 ± 4.2%, P = .022).
Replacement players adopted a high initial intensity in their first match quartile before a severe decline thereafter. However, in a second bout, lower exercise intensity at the outset enabled a higher physiological exertion for later periods. These findings inform interchange strategy and conditioning for coaches while also providing preliminary evidence of pacing in team sport.
Waldron, Highton, and Twist are with the Dept of Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Chester, Chester, UK. Daniels is with St Helens Rugby Football Club, St Helens, UK.